January 22, 2004

What if?

My entry from earlier this week about Albert Pujols segued nicely into one of my favorite subjects, a man by the name of Theodore Samuel Williams.

As I've said many times in many places, Ted Williams is my favorite baseball player of all-time. That is probably a fairly strange thing for a 21-year-old who never saw Williams play to say, but it is true. I've read about him, I've heard about him, I've seen him interviewed and I've read his magnificent book on hitting. Everything about him, from his background and upbringing to his life in and out of baseball, is incredibly intriguing to me. Plus, the guy wasn't a bad ballplayer either.

Sticking strictly to the baseball stuff, there is so much about Williams that is interesting. For one thing, he is the only guy in the history of baseball who it can be honestly said gave Babe Ruth a run for his money for the title of Best Hitter Ever.

In addition to that, there is the fact that he was a two-time MVP and should have won more. He was a two-time Triple Crown winner. He's the last man to hit .400. He won the league batting title in nearly half the seasons he qualified for it. He led the league in on-base percentage in every single one of his full seasons after his rookie year. His career OBP of .482 is the highest in the history of the sport. His career slugging percentage of .634 is second all-time to The Babe, as is his 190 career OPS+. He was a 17-time All-Star.

Williams' batting average dropped from .328 as a 39-year-old to .254 as a 40-year-old. Unsatisfied with retiring after a season like that, he came back and hit .316 with a .451 on-base percentage and a .645 slugging percentage at 41, and then called it a career.

I could go on and on all day, just as I could stare at his numbers all day.

As I said on Wednesday, perhaps the most amazing thing about Williams' career numbers is that he was able to compile them despite missing all of 1943, 1944 and 1945, and the majority of 1952 and 1953, serving in the military. Because of his time in the service, Williams did not play a single game as a 24, 25 or 26-year-old, and played just 43 total games combined in his age-33 and age-34 seasons.

Here's another way of looking at it...

Everyone knows just how extraordinary Barry Bonds' career numbers are. Here's a look at some of the most impressive ones:

 AVG     OBP     SLG       H     HR     2B     SB     RBI     RUN      BB

.297 .433 .602 2595 658 536 500 1742 1941 2070

Now, let's pretend for a moment that Barry Bonds had missed the same time at the same ages Ted Williams missed because he was serving in the military. Here are what Bonds' "new" career totals would look like:

 AVG     OBP     SLG       H     HR     2B     SB     RBI     RUN      BB

.303 .445 .627 1909 519 383 334 1270 1458 1592

His average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage actually all go up, but his "counting stats" all plummet. Bonds loses nearly 700 hits, including 139 homers and 153 doubles. He also drops 166 stolen bases and nearly 500 RBIs, runs and walks. The "lost" years obviously don't turn Bonds into anything less than an all-time great, but they do drop him down quite a bit on most of the all-time leaderboards.

- He goes from #4 all-time in homers to #16, and he goes from being just 97 homers shy of tying Hank Aaron's record to being 236 homers behind Hammerin' Hank.

- He goes from ranking 70th all-time in hits and needing 405 for 3,000, to not ranking among the top-250 all-time hit leaders and needing nearly 1,100 more for 3,000.

- He goes from being the only man in the history of the sport to ever hit 500 homers and steal 500 bases, to simply being in the 300/300 Club, along with three other guys.

- He goes from being 9th all-time in runs scored and 16th all-time in runs batted in, to ranking 65th in all-time runs and 96th in all-time RBIs.

You see what missing all that time would have done to Bonds' numbers, so you can imagine what it did do to Williams'. I thought it might be fun to attempt to figure out what Ted Williams' career numbers would have been like, had he been able to play his entire career without having to step away for years at a time.

To figure out what Bonds' numbers would have looked like with him missing time, all I had to do was delete his age-24, 25 and 26 seasons, and then give him only a fraction of his totals from age-33 and 34. To figure out Williams' "missing" numbers, it's a little tougher.

If we wanted to be really technical about it, we could try to figure out how Williams would have aged, so that we could have really gotten a handle on his stats from 24-26 year old. And then we'd try to do the same thing for the huge chunks of two seasons he missed in his 30s.

I'm more interested in getting a good rough estimate though, so we'll try to keep things fairly simple. To figure out his missing numbers from 1943, 1944 and 1945, I am simply going to take the average season from the two years prior to his absence and the two years after he returned.

So, we take 1941 and 1942 and add them together with 1946 and 1947, and then figure out the average of those four years that surrounded his missing seasons.

Here's what the average season from 1941, 1942, 1946 and 1947, combined, looks like:

  G     AVG     OBP     SLG      H    HR    2B    3B     TB    RBI    RUN     BB

150 .360 .509 .669 182 36 36 6 338 124 136 153

Not a bad average season, huh?

Then what we do is simply take that average season and plug it into Williams' career three times - in 1943, 1944 and 1945. That takes care of filling in the blanks for ages 24, 25 and 26, but it still leaves ages 33 and 34.

This part is a little more complicated, because Williams actually did play parts of both the 1952 season and 1953 season. In 1952 he played six games, hitting .400/.500/.900. Then he came back in 1953 and played 37 games, hitting .407/.509/.901 with 13 homers. I think you're starting to see why I think Ted Williams is so amazing now.

I'm sure there are several intelligent ways to try to figure out what he might have done in 1952 and 1953, but we're going to go for simplicity over preciseness. All I am going to do is add up all his numbers from the two years prior (1950, 1951) and the two years after (1954, 1955), plus the stuff he did in the 43 games he did play in 1952/1953. Then I'm going take that and make two full seasons out of it. We'll make the "full seasons" just 135 games, since the schedule was shorter then and Williams did often miss games later on in his career.

Those four total years surrounding his second group of missing time and the 43 games from the years he missed time add up to a total of 495 games. So, if we take the per game averages and make two 135-game seasons out of them, we get two seasons that look like this:

  G     AVG     OBP     SLG      H    HR    2B    3B     TB    RBI    RUN     BB

135 .337 .483 .641 153 35 28 3 292 118 104 129

So, we just plug that "season" into both 1952 and 1953 and...PRESTO!...Ted Williams has a full career without any interruptions.

Ready to see the new final numbers?

(Drum-roll please...)

TED WILLIAMS (1939-1960)


AVG OBP SLG H HR 2B TB RBI RUN BB
.345 .485 .637 3465 685 683 6391 2410 2395 2717

Those are simply monstrous numbers across-the-board.

Here is where he would rank among the all-time leaders in each stat with his new numbers, along with where he actually ranks with old numbers:

                         NEW        OLD

Games 11 91
Batting Average 6 7
On-Base Percentage 1 1
Slugging Percentage 2 2
OPS 2 2
Hits 6 62
Home Runs 3 14
Doubles 5 30
Total Bases 2 19
Extra-Base Hits 2 12
Runs Batted In 1 12
Runs Scored 1 16
Walks 1 4

By my rough estimation, Ted Williams lost 677 games while serving his country. In those games, he lost 811 hits equaling 1,507 total bases. Included among the lost hits were 158 doubles, 23 triples and 164 homers. He also lost 571 RBIs, 597 runs and 696 walks.

By giving him credit for all that missed time, he shoots up to the very top of almost every all-time list that he isn't already at the top of.

Williams would rank first all-time in on-base percentage, RBIs, runs and walks. He would rank second all-time in slugging percentage, OPS, total bases and extra-base hits. He would move from 30th all-time in homers to third, behind only Aaron and Ruth, and would move from 62nd all-time in hits to sixth.

"A man has to have goals - for a day, for a lifetime - and that was mine, to have people say, 'There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.'"


--- Ted Williams


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